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What differentiates a tablet user from a smartphone user?

By Daniel Cawrey / August 5, 2013

With so many choices in the tech device market, it’s strange that we lump everything together under the “mobile” umbrella. Smartphones, tablets and phablets may be equally great for on-the-go use, but developers need to know how a tablet user differs from a smartphone user.

Smartphones vs. tablets — the main differences

We generally think of the smartphone era beginning around 2007 when the iPhone was first released. The iPad then ushered in tablets back in 2010. When these products first came out, we didn’t know how people would really end up using them. Now that many years have passed, there’s a clear difference between how the two devices are used.

Smartphones are the devices we keep with us at all times. They keep us productive and allow us to access information anytime, anyplace. Tablet users, however, don’t take their device everywhere they go. Tablets are typically used in more time-friendly situations like riding the train or sitting on the couch. We also use tablets for leisure activities like gaming, reading, online shopping, browsing the Internet and watching a movie or TV show. Let’s look at some examples to see how applications can be built with the right device in mind.

Yahoo’s mail app

Aware of issues regarding user engagement, Yahoo recently released a tablet-based application for their mail product as part of an overall refresh. The tablet edition differs from the smartphone version by creating an uncluttered, paper-like interface that takes full advantage of the tablet’s larger screen. This spacious display is a sharp contrast to the smartphones cluttered, information-heavy look. The tablet app is built for a more relaxing reading experience in an attempt to entice users back to Yahoo’s mail service.


Developed in conjunction with NFL star Tony Gonzalez, FitStar features workout videos with 60 different exercises you can do at home. Similar to traditional at-home training, Gonzalez and the FitStar trainer walk you through each exercise while you work up a sweat, but you’re out of luck if you only own an iPhone. The FitStar app has been optimized for larger portable devices like the iPad and iPad Mini. If those screens are a little small for your liking, FitStar seamlessly integrates with Apple TV to turn your home entertainment system into your personal gymnasium.


FitStar may have neglected the Google Play Store, but note-taking and archiving app, Evernote, never forgets the importance of the Android market. They’ve completely revamped the tablet interface for all non-iPad devices, giving users a new home screen that displays more information, improved swipe navigations for more control, a larger list to browse previous notes and the new Places function, which keeps track of where notes are taken. Evernote clearly understands how to cater to the unique needs of smartphone and tablet users.

In the end

It’s important to know how to optimize your app for each piece of hardware. Or more importantly, if your app even needs to be used on multiple devices. Like FitStar realized, sometimes the benefit of a multi-platform app isn’t worth the time it takes to troubleshoot it. The idea of building a one-size-fits-all application for mobile purposes is becoming more difficult to accomplish and less desirable to consumers. Hardware is becoming a more defining element in mobile software development and brings exciting prospects for niche products.